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Another Broken Brain: Cell Phone Addiction

I stumbled upon an article I read back in 2019 and found myself shocked at how much my situation had changed. The article is titled “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain” by Kevin Roose, and the title does a pretty good job of describing the article. It tells a story of how a tech columnist was able to battle and eventually overcome his phone addiction. When I read the article back in 2019, I remember feeling pity for Mr Roose. Now, two years later after being holed up at home during much of the pandemic, I find myself relating to the author, and maybe even looking up to him for having succeeded.

It’s scary how quickly one’s situation can change these days. Before COVID, I considered my attachment to my phone one of healthy professional necessity. I am a consultant, after all, and I need to be attentive to my clients and colleagues. Little did I know that I was on the path from dependency to full-blown addiction. Up until recently, I discovered that I, like Mr Roose, had been operating with a broken brain. In my case, “broken” meant the inability to focus for extended periods. It’s not necessarily that I spent too much time on my phone, it’s that my time on my phone frequently interrupted me when I should be doing other things. The problem is that these other things are not exclusive to just my private or professional lives: I get easily distracted when I am watching TV or answering an important client email. The latter still gets done, but it definitely takes me longer.

Breaking the Habit

Having broken my phone habit two months ago, I have mostly good news to report. First, like in the Times article, it is odd to look around and seeing so many phone addicts. When I am at the gym and see people glued to their phones between or instead of sets, what I feel must be akin to a resolute former alcoholic when they see someone who is sloppy drunk: no temptation, just pity, and an overwhelming sense of “thank goodness that’s not me anymore”. Second, I have noticed only improved efficiency at work, much of that has to with being able to sit down and finish tasks from start to finish. No longer do I sit down only to start reaching for my phone as soon as the task at hand poses a challenge. This increased work efficiency has made me feel more competent, and therefore more confident.

I was wrong to pity the author. He had overcome something serious, and because he shared his story, he had helped countless others (even me, albeit a couple years later). It is not the worst of addictions, but it is one that markedly detracts from quality of life. Right now, I have my dependency under control. Case in point: I wrote most of this article on my phone. But with some controls in place: airplane mode. This process has been partly motivated by the desire to get to know myself and those around me better, and I know I still need to keep myself in check.